This process involves taking a raw fermented fish product – one fermented using salt, and rice – to produce an all-purpose seasoning sauce with a mellower smell and re-layered flavor base elements.
The fermentation technique of pla ra is very simple; it is believed to have developed in the rice-cultivating communities of southeastern China, where the three ingredients required to produce it – namely freshwater fish, salt, and rice – were found in abundance. Rice, either the rice husks, ground roasted rice, or cooked rice, contributes to the bacteria and yeasts, together with the fish enzymes, that are responsible for starting the fermentation process.
To mellow the fishy-umami aggressiveness of the fermented fish, as well as to ensure hygiene, the fermented fish and its broth are boiled with equally strong aromatics until each element releases its aroma and together help to counter the fishy odor of the fermented fish.
We use lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, pandan leaves, fingerroot, and galangal for the deodorizing aromatics.
As additional flavor base elements, we add coriander roots, shallots, and fresh chilies.
Pickled garlic, pineapple, and tamarind flesh assist in installing a triangle of subtle sourness. In addition, the pineapple, besides adding light fruitiness to the umami mass, contribute digestive enzymes called bromelain. These enzymes help to further intensify the umami by breaking down protein into free amino acids, and also serve as an anti-parasitic component that helps preserve the sauce for an extended period.
To further strengthen the umami with a light and almost transparent smoke element, I like to add some grilled fermented shrimp paste; I prefer this to adding MSG, which is often the case with commercial seasoned fermented fish sauce preparations.
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- 3 cups fermented fish meat (pla ra) (ปลาร้า)
- 3 cups water (น้ำเปล่า)
- 1/2 cup shallots (หอมแดง) bruised
- 5 stalks lemongrass (ตะไคร้)
- 1 cup galangal (ข่า)
- 1 cup fingerroot (krachai) (กระชาย)
- 8 pieces coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1/2 cup kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด)
- 2 pieces pandan leaves (ใบเตย)
- 1/4 cup fresh red and green Thai bird’s eye chilies (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูแดง และ เขียว)
- 1 head pickled garlic (กระเทียมดอง)
- 1/4 cup pineapple (สัปปะรด)
- 1 tablespoon tamarind flesh (เนื้อมะขามเปียก)
- 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) grilled
- 1/3 cup pineapple (สัปปะรด)
- Place all the ingredients into a pot.
- Add the raw fermented fish; dilute with water if necessary.
- Bring to a boil and cook on low heat until there is no foul odor. Make sure that your kitchen is well ventilated or do it outdoors.
- Strain the liquids and let it cool
- Store at room temperature with a few cubes of fresh pineapple which helps the preservation process.